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IAPA surveys corrosion of free speech

Violence against journalists, restrictive laws, arbitrary judicial decisions and a culture of impunity are major trends in the deterioration of free speech throughout the Americas, reports the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). It has released its findings in a series of country reports after its general assembly on 6 to 10 November in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The most critical issue is the 16 journalists killed in the past six months (eight in Mexico, three in Honduras, two in Guatemala, two in Colombia and one in El Salvador), the highest number in recent years, reports IAPA. The death of so many journalists marks an extreme wave of violence linked to organised crime and a matter of impunity.

Obstructing access to information is another trend in the region. Independent news outlets are routinely denied official information and legislation demanding greater transparency remains stalled. IAPA is calling on the Panama government to permit its citizens to request and receive information without having to justify a specific interest to obtain it.

In Cuba, government-run media outlets receive unconditional support, while independent voices are quashed and access to the Internet is tightly controlled. Cuba is leading the way in its attempts to control and censor the Internet as it restricts and intimidates a new movement of bloggers.

IAPA has recorded 27 journalists in Cuban prisons serving sentences ranging from one to 28 years. Darsi Ferrer, a journalist and human rights activist, was beaten and arrested at his home on 21 July. He remains detained without charge. On 2 November, journalist and blogger Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, editor of "Hablemos Press", was sentenced to six months in prison. Guerra Pérez was convicted for alleged assault, although he was attacked by two people and was defending his relatives. IAPA condemns the atrocious environment in jails and violations of prisoners' rights. Many prisoners suffer from intestinal disorders, malnutrition and mental illness, among numerous health issues exacerbated by unhygienic conditions.

The connection between poverty and press freedom shows how a free press and an independent judiciary are needed to reveal systemic flaws, to challenge state power to respond to the needs of all its citizens. "Persecution of journalism and any opinion that differs from that of those who hold power only begins the slow and tortuous slide toward corrupt totalitarianism that causes more poverty and violence."

IAPA members ratified resolutions covering murders of journalists, judicial censorship, government controls over the press, and the suspension of constitutional guarantees, among others. IAPA called on Honduran authorities to lift restrictions against the press, to stop closing media outlets and to hold free expression central to any solution to the current political crisis. In Venezuela, IAPA called for the release of imprisoned journalist Gustavo Azócar and to end political persecution of journalists.

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